Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
2 Kings 23.1-3
The reading of the long-lost Book of the Law compelled King Josiah to action and this action involved two things.
- A recommitment to the Covenant (the Law) by the King and the people and
- Immediate action on behalf of the King.
The first of these was relatively easy, as in many ways, it is not very demanding on a person to make verbal promises. The second demanded ‘putting his head above the parapet’ and setting himself against the foreign gods and their priesthood who, along with other things, had brought the people of Judah to the ultimate low point in their history.
The work of cleansing began immediately (v.4 – 12) with the removal from the Temple of articles dedicated to Baal, Asherah and all the starry host which had been put in the place of the worship of the LORD, together with the destruction of a vast range of people and artefacts associated with them. The writer also records in v.15 ‘Even (emphasis mine) the Altar at Bethel’ which had drawn people away from God since the division of the Kingdom under Jeroboam, was removed and obliterated.
It was a root and branch reformation.
But he did something more which was absolutely vital. He called the people v.21 to ‘Celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God as it is written in the book of the Covenant’. For being made in the image of God the people needed him at the centre of their lives and worship if they were not to keep seeking false gods.
Read the detail in the chapter v.1-25 and thank God for the example of Josiah who we are told
Neither before nor after (him) was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
Sadly, this great narrative ends with ‘Nevertheless’!
For these reforms, hugely significant as they were, were unable to turn away ‘the heat of God’s fierce anger which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.’
So we might ask, what was the point of the reformation that Josiah initiated?
It demonstrates that God is a just and merciful God, keeping covenant with his people. He had set out years before what he required of the people and with that the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience, and he was true to his word.
He is the God who can be trusted absolutely!
It demonstrates that man, on his own cannot fulfil the law’s demands which is a terrible thing for it means that although there may be periods in which covenant is kept by people and even, as in this case, nations, such blessing is short-lived.
We cannot dig ourselves out of the ditch!
It demonstrates the absolute need for one who is able to keep the whole law, perfectly on man’s behalf forever. Josiah’s reforms lasted only as long as his life but for those who have eyes to see there is in him a foretaste of who would come from David’s line of which Josiah was a part.
We are privileged to live post the Cross where Jesus, the perfect Son of God paid the ultimate price which enables those who put their trust in him to be counted righteous and become heirs to all the blessings of the Covenant.
Under Josiah the people of Judah came close, for a finite period of time, and then they fell back into their old ways. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses his people from ALL sin but they (we) have to be active and intentional in keeping the Covenant.
Many a temptation will seek to pull us away so we need constantly to reform. To throw out that which so easily usurps God’s place in our lives and live wholeheartedly for him.
And as we are reformed so we are equipped to challenge those around us to themselves seek the reformation that only Christ can give.
Our world is, in many ways, little different spiritually from that of Josiah’s day as God is sidelined and people worship anything that pleases.
Let us pray that the salt and light of God’s, reformed and reforming, people will by his grace and the working of his Spirit, lead to reformation in every walk of life.